Cinnamaldehyde in early iron age phoenician flasks raises the possibility of levantine trade with South East Asia

Dvory Namdar, Ayelet Gilboa, Ronny Neumann, Israel Finkelstein, Steve Weiner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Small ceramic flasks with thick walls and narrow openings were produced in Phoenicia. These flasks were common in Phoenicia, the southern Levant and Cyprus in the early Iron Age, namely in the 11th-mid-9th centuries BCE. Their shape, size, decoration and find-contexts suggest that they contained some precious materials and were part of a commercial network operating in these regions. We analyzed the lipid contents of 27 such containers from 5 archaeological sites in Israel using gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry (GC-MS). The organic extractions of 10 of these flasks contained cinnamaldehyde (C9H8O), a major component of cinnamon. In antiquity the cinnamon tree grew only in South and South East Asia. As cinnamaldehyde is found in small quantities in some modern potential contaminants, possible contamination of the small flasks with this compound was carefully assessed. Significantly, two recently excavated small flasks that were not handled directly contained relatively high concentrations of cinnamaldehyde. Other vessel types from the same archaeological sites and in some cases the same contexts did not contain cinnamaldehyde. Thus it is unlikely that the presence of cinnamaldehyde in the flasks results from contamination. This finding raises the intriguing possibility of long distance trade in the early Iron Age, assuming that the extracted cinnamaldehyde is indeed derived from the bark of the cinnamon tree. This is consistent with other suggestions that trade from South/South East Asia to the West took place at such an early date.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalMediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2013


  • Cinnamaldehyde
  • Cinnamon
  • Flasks
  • GC-MS
  • Iron Age
  • Residue analysis
  • South East Asian trade

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Conservation
  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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